Sunshine and showers: the top e-cigarette stories in review

rainbow - Hartwig HKD 300x180As the change of seasons edged closer over February and early March, headlines in the e-cigarette sector were a sometimes confusing mix of storm clouds and sunshine.

In North America, certainly, the regulatory climate had a touch of grimness – although with the eventual form (and schedule) of the deeming regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still uncertain, it’s anyone’s guess how long the slightly bitter spell will last.

In Alaska, public health officials came down hard on e-cigarettes with an advertising campaign including posters and local TV, while in California a nonprofit followed up on recent anti-e-cig rhetoric from public health authorities by threatening to sue e-cigarette companies over their product labelling.

At the same time, public health officials from across the U.S. were advised by a professional association to err on the side of caution when formulating e-cigarette rules.

There were signs of more imminent regulation in Canada, too, where provincial governments across the country are moving to cut across the regulatory confusion created by an uncertain federal position; most recently, British Columbia’s planned legislation would include a public vaping ban.

Healthy disagreement

One of the reasons for this accelerating concern over health may be the flurry of vaping scares in the mainstream media, although our analysis – like that of many other parties – showed much of it to be misrepresenting scientific findings.

Still, there were voices from the health and science communities defending e-cigs, too.

One of the main architects of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) expressed his strong support, starkly separating himself from the position adopted by the FCTC at its Moscow summit last year, while a new European group has been trying to bring together scientists, medical professionals and organisations that see e-cigarettes having potential as smoking cessation aids.

On the bright side

Indeed, for positive regulatory news it was better to turn to Europe, though even there its import was mixed.

The Danish government drafted a bill which would liberalise e-cigs in Denmark by allowing them to be sold as consumer products, rather than just as medical ones – but also introduce heavy restrictions on their design, marketing and use.

And a new Dutch decree came into effect in February, imposing rules on such issues as e-liquid volume and nicotine concentration, but placing minimal constraints on advertising.

Both the Dutch and Danish actions are moves to implement the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which all EU member states are required to do by mid-2016.

Expect a lot more activity on this high-pressure front over the next few months; in Ireland, for example, law-makers are already faced with two competing proposals for regulating e-cigarettes.

Onward and outward

Within the industry itself, there was no sign of battening down the hatches, and indeed many of the top stories concerned development of existing brands and expansion into new territories.

Philip Morris International (PMI) aimed the Altria MarkTen at Spain in a new incarnation as Solaris, while Imperial Tobacco’s Fontem announced the rollout of its Jai e-cig to France and then Italy, suggesting that Big Tobacco may now be arriving on European shores in force.

And PMI described the first international market trials of its iQOS heat-not-burn system as successes, with higher-than-expected sales in Japan and a strong conversion rate in Italy.

At the other end of the globe, meanwhile, Japan Tobacco’s president has said it will be speeding development of e-cigs this year. It has separated from the U.S. startup Ploom, now known as Pax – a parting which seems likely to result in product innovation from both. Indeed, an announcement from Pax was made recently.

Blu clouds

On the U.S. domestic front, the picture was a little cloudier. Lorillard’s Blu seemed to be taking a battering, while Reynolds’ Vuse powered ahead unscathed.

Competing brands are not the only threat for e-cig makers, of course. We reported on growing evidence that counterfeiting represents a serious problem for e-cig companies, while taxation may have a chilling effect in some territories.

For example, the new Italian tax regime now confirmed for e-cigarettes and e-liquid is likely to double the price of some products and dramatically narrow the gap with tobacco – while proposals in the U.S. state of Washington would nearly double the price of e-cigarettes, e-liquid and accessories.

– Freddie Dawson and Barnaby Page ECigIntelligence staff

Photo: Hartwig HKD

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